Whether you like yours from that tiny takeaway spot on the corner, the traditional eatery in the centre of town, or the modernised tapas-style place everyone’s talking about, curry is one of Mzansi’s most-loved foods. The wise foodie knows not to judge the restaurant by its location or décor, but by its curry. Here’s where to get your fix across SA.
Dosa Hut (Fordsburg)
This warm and intimate family-friendly restaurant offers a great variety of south Indian dishes and some Indo-Chinese fare. For the best curry, try the chef’s special Kerala chicken curry, made in the traditional style to result in a rich and tasty dish.
Mantra Indian Cuisine (Parktown North)
For a memorable vindaloo curry, head to Mantra, another high-end Indian restaurant in Joburg, with splendid décor and ambience. It’s perfect for those days when you want a more elegant and subdued dining experience. The hot and tender lamb vindaloo is prepared in the traditional Goan style, with its spiciness reflecting the Portuguese influence on this west-Indian coastal state.
This is a primarily Indian restaurant, which also serves more Eastern cuisine such as egg-fried rice, crispy fried lamb, and gobi manchurian. The Indian dishes reflect a mainly south-Indian influence, with the Chettinadu lamb being a standout dish. Soft, succulent pieces of lamb cooked with roasted, sundried coconut and traditional Chettinad spices – red chillies, cloves, cumin, cardamom, coriander seeds and cinnamon – come together in a matchless curry dish.
The Raj Restaurant (Bryanston)
Faithful to traditional north-Indian cuisine, this is one of Joburg’s most prominent Indian food stores. The Bryanston branch at Nicolway shopping centre is elegant and chic, with well-trained waitrons delivering professional service and the food living up to the brand’s reputation each time. For a curry to remember, order the murgh sahi korma. It’s a creamy and delicately spicy chicken dish with a cashew nut, yoghurt and saffron gravy. One of the best kormas in town.
Royal Punjab (Blackheath)
One of the most popular north-Indian dishes, rogan josh, is given fiery expression at Royal Punjab, with tender pieces of lamb, aromatic spices and the pleasant heat with which the curry dish is associated. This is but one of a number of fine dishes at this unassuming and pocket-friendly restaurant.
Serving an array of cuisine from various regions of India, Spiceburg will transport you to a land of intense, bursting flavours and colours. The vegetarian dishes here have become the stuff of legend. Highly recommended is the vegetable makhani, whose bold flavours perfectly pay homage to its Punjabi roots. This rich and flavourful medley of seasonal vegetables is cooked in the traditional makhani style, with a tomato-and-butter gravy that’s truly superlative.
Thava Indian Restaurant (Norwood)
It’s a little bit more on the higher-end when it comes to pricing – and certainly service, venue and food, too – but a dinner at Thava is arguably one of the best Indian food experiences in the city. The menu is inspired by Owner Matthew Abraham’s place of birth, the tropical south-Indian state of Kerala, whose cuisine has Christian, Muslim, Moplah and Portuguese influences. Transport yourself to the Malabar coast with Thava’s chicken-and-prawn curry (R119). Tropical and spicy, the combination of prawn, chicken, tomato and curry is easily one of the tastiest curries in Joburg.
Al Amin (Laudium)
This traditional Pakistani restaurant serves an amazing brain curry, which is listed on the menu as brain malsal, which may be shorthand for masala. Either way, it’s a soft, subtle curry, almost as if the brain was cooked separately and then added to the sauce. Creamy and delicious if you can get past any qualms, it’s a bargain at R55.90 a portion. Wrap it up in one of Al Amin’s many delicious breads.
One of the brand-new restaurants in the recently opened Time Square Casino, Asoka features a simpler, less adorned interior-decorating style. The Goan crab curry (R198) is made with whole crab pieces in the shell, cooked classically in a tomato gravy with a mix of spices. Fresh coriander and a splash of cream finishes the dish that should ideally be served very simply with steamed basmati rice.
Bay Leaf (Laudium)
Another one on a list of fantastic Laudium restaurants, Bay Leaf sits on the first floor of a small shopping centre, right in the middle of this bustling suburb. On the menu is a fantastic mutton bhuna curry made from mutton on the bone in a dry curry style. This traditional Bangladeshi dish is prepared with brown onions, ginger and masala, and served with rice and naan.
Gita Jivan is constantly striving to make Indian food modern and contemporary, pushing boundaries in terms of flavour combinations and avant-garde plating. One of her most recent inventions, lamb curry with coffee flavours, is an amazing fusion of flavours. The meat is marinated in yoghurt, green papaya and home-made spice mix overnight to tenderise. Thereafter it’s cooked in creamy coconut and fused with espresso, resulting in a gentle, smoky curry that’s served with coffee pilau rice and a coconut naan kulcha paratha.
On the other side of town, and possibly also on the other side of the price scale, Namaskar serves delicately flavoured and deliciously authentic Indian food. It has a wine list of which to be proud, and the restaurant is a firm favourite with all sorts of patrons. The owners are always on hand to give advice, with other members of the family lending a hand when things get busy. The prawn curry here is a generous bowl of high-quality prawns in a perfectly balanced curry sauce, served with either rice or breads from the tandoor oven.
Oriental Palace (CDB)
Situated in the Colosseum Hotel, this remains one of the quirkiest of restaurants in Pretoria’s city centre. The circular building with its distinct architectural style offers not only accommodation and fantastic parking, but great Indian food, too. The cauliflower curry is simply delicious, consisting of big florets of the vegetable in a medium-heat dry curry sauce made to order. Vegetables are just cooked and perfectly flavoured. A bowl of aloo gobi with plain steamed white rice will heal many winter aliments.
Spice, The Indian Kitchen (Lynnwood)
Also still relatively new, this small restaurant in a suburban mall boasts huge flavours. The restaurant fills up fairly quickly thanks to crowd-pleasing dishes like the chicken korma, made with ground cashew nuts, cream and boneless chicken.
In the same little centre as Bay Leaf, Thali makes the best dosas in all of Pretoria. If you crave a curry in a lighter-than-air wafer, choose the masala uthappam (vegetables, potato and lentils in a spicy curry mix) with dosa and various condiments on the side. Best of all are the fresh fruit and herb juices and drinks they make here, which can transports you straight to India.
The Bunny Bar (Morningside)
Just off Florida Road is this bunny-chow bar, a small gem that offers meaty meals as well as veggie-friendly favourites. Try one of the paneer bunnies, butter-chicken roti rolls or delicious specials of the day such as crab curry, mince kebabs or mutton-and-cabbage curry.
Cane Cutters (Glenwood)
This Glenwood spot is popular for its hot bunny chows and curries. Expect friendly service and fresh food for both sit-downs and takeaways. On the menu you’ll find options of yellow potato curry with roti or rice, classic mutton curry, or succulent prawn bunny chow. You’ll be able to order a side of salad, roti bread or rice with your curry of choice.
Capsicum (Umgeni Road)
The Britannia Hotel is known for its restaurant’s real Durban-style curries.Try a mutton curry or roti rolls with the likes of curried broad beans or peri-peri paneer.
Gounden’s canteen-style eatery is a perfect spot for a spice-filled working lunch. The menu features great versions of curry – served with rice or roti – with proteins like mutton, chicken, fish, veg or chops, or you can opt for one of the legendary bunny chows.
Impulse by the Sea (Tinley Manor)
Take a drive up the North Coast for a delicious curry experience at this Tinley Manor restaurant. Begin with freshly-made papadums before getting stuck into the signature prawn-and-crab curries that are rich with a tomato base and exotic spices. Other highlights include the lamb curry, butter chicken, and the masala-grilled fish. All curries are served with rice, traditional sambals and papadums. If the weather allows, find a seat outside and take in the sea views.
Indian Summer (Glenashley)
This unassuming spot is popular with the locals for a quick takeaway curry or a casual midweek supper. Kickstart with a lemon-and-coriander soup, paneer pakoda, or mince samoosas. For mains, there are meal combos of grills and bunnies, or heartier curries with the likes of Malabar fish curry, chicken korma, lamb rogan josh, or aloo gobi masala. Mop it all up with a side of tandoori roti or garlic naan bread.
Mali’s Indian Restaurant (Morningside)
The vast menu here features a range of north- and south-Indian dishes. Choose from variations of idli, dosa and vadai, and luxurious chicken, lamb, veg and seafood curries. For the indecisive, there’s the thali, which comes with soup, succulent lamb curry, butter chicken, dhal, naan bread, crispy papadums, sambals, yoghurt, and gulab jamun for dessert.
Ocean Terrace at The Oyster Box Hotel (Umhlanga)
The Oyster Box Hotel has become renowned for its spicy buffet. Every day an impressive array of curries is served in the balmy, colonial-inspired Ocean Terrace restaurant. The buffet includes a Singapore fish curry, butter chicken, the Durban-style chicken and prawn, and the hotel’s signature, a Durban lamb curry. Also included are home-made pickles, chutneys, sambals, naan breads, papadums and rotis.
Baps Shayona (Rylands)
Here you’ll find a wide variety of vegetarian dishes that stem from the tenets of the Hindu diet, with no onion or garlic. The most popular dishes include the pani puri, paneer curry (with naan to mop up the gravy), masala dosa, and the thali, a wonderful selection of curries, biryani, roti, puri and sambar served atop a tray.
Bihari Indian Restaurant (Newlands)
At this landmark in the southern suburbs you can watch the chefs at the tandoor ovens, roasting kebabs on long skewers and baking fresh naan to accompany the aromatic madras, masala, korma and vindaloo curry sauces.
Bombay Chilli (Plumstead)
This hidden gem makes a great takeaway curry for any day of the week. Go for the chilli bites to start, or the chicken-stuffed parathas. Then, dive into your choice of veggie, chicken, lamb or seafood curry. The palak paneer is a delicious choice for vegetarians and the butter chicken is rich with a thick and glossy gravy. Pro tip: Order a side of garlic naan or buttery and flaky lachha paratha.
Bukhara (City Bowl)
This is the place to go for a special, delicious authentic meal. For mains you might opt for butter chicken-and-prawn masala, with a side of naan and garlic raita. The delectable mango ice cream is the perfect end to a spicy feast.
The Indian Chapter with Prim Reddy (Bloubergstrand)
Locals flock here for a good curry fix from the tandoor oven. Start with samoosas, marinated line fish or minced lamb. The gorgeous lamb vindaloo and madras curries have a serious bite. If you’re after a milder experience, try the lamb korma.
Maharajah Vegetarian (Rondebosch)
The extensive menu here offers a range of veggie-friendly authentic curries. The slow-cooked sauces are richly layered with braised spices – mild, medium or hot (not for the faint-hearted). Popular choices are lentil dhal, palak paneer, korma and chickpea-and-butternut curry.
Maharajah South Indian Restaurant (Tamboerskloof)
The many choices here could easily send your head into a spin. Go for the non-veg snack platter to start, before moving onto the hearty and delicious lamb curry on the bone, fish biryani, or brinjal, pea and mushroom curry. For a refreshing side, order the banana raita, or mango-and-lime pickle.
Punjab Express (Tokai)
Freshly ground spices infuse the air here with exotic fragrances of traditional northern-Indian cuisine. You’ll find excellent versions of signature chicken tikka and tandoori chicken as well as lamb kebabs, atchar prawns and the highway chicken curry inspired by Punjabi roadside restaurants.
Sundoo (Sea Point)
Comfort food with a south-Indian-style kick is what you’ll get at this Regent Road spot. Small sharing plates of wok-fried squid heads with lime, coriander and chilli spice have a great kick; the puri patha and mini bunny chows are also a good starting point. For something heavier, try something from the clay oven or one of the curries. There’s Anjuna prawn curry cooked in tomato and onions, Kavarati chicken with fennel and cumin, or an exotic pineapple curry with black mustard and coconut sauce. Order your curry medium, hot or vindaloo style.
Chef Liam Tomlin has created a high-end Chefs Warehouse experience with an Indian twist in this buzzing Gardens venue. Here you’ll find beautifully spiced north-Indian tapas with options like succulent tandoori chicken and rashers of tempura pork belly with sweet-and-sour ginger-tamarind sauce, gorgeous dhal, steaming naan and delicious butter chicken. Pair your curry experience with one of the beautiful made-for-spice wines on offer.
Indochine at Delaire Graff Estate (Stellenbosch)
Chef Virgil Kahn plays beautifully with Asian flavours at this elegant restaurant. On the curry front, the menu might feature a glorious beef rendang curry served in an non-traditional manner with fillet of beef, lemongrass and coconut, lamb bhindi ghosht with pickled lentils and samoosas, or an aromatic prawn curry with charred onion, a slow-roasted tomato gravy and saffron potatoes. Sides of tapioca and raita are offered to refresh the palate.
Expect tastes of Northern India at chef Vanie Padayachee’s small-plates restaurant. Look to layered rice biryanis or curries with options from chicken and slow-cooked lamb to prawns or line fish. There are also chicken or beef kebabs cooked in the charcoal tandoor. Each dish is served in copper bowls and is accompanied by a variety of traditional bread, rice, salad and raita.
Have we missed your go-to curry spot? Let us know in the comments below.